The train of democracy was derailed when Bangladesh came under a state of emergency in 2007. Ultimately, however, the elections held by the army-backed caretaker government in December 2008 resulted in a decisive victory for the Awami League-led grand coalition, securing an overwhelming two-thirds majority
As we know, Bangladesh’s democracy has been on a knife-edge since its inception. After years of authoritarian and army rule a democratic set-up was established in 1991, the train of democracy was derailed when Bangladesh came under a state of emergency in 2007.
YOU CAN ALSO READ: POLITICAL MOVEMENT IN BANGLADESH: PEOPLE’S POWER
Ultimately, however, the elections held by the army-backed caretaker government in December 2008 resulted in a decisive victory for the Awami League-led grand coalition, securing an overwhelming two-thirds majority. Though democracy has been restored, it needs to be sustained through concerted efforts.
Political party is indispensable for a democratic society. On the other hand, Political Alliance is a time-tested thing in modern democracy. The term Political Alliance is increasingly being used in Bangladeshi party politics. The concept of political alliance is an agreement between countries political parties etc, to work together in order to achieve something that they all want.
POLITICAL ALLIANCE IN BANGLADESH
Alliance in politics is not a new phenomena, it has a long history in Bangladesh politics. A.K. Fazlul Huq, the leader of the Krishak Proja Party (KPP), formed a coalition government with the Muslim League in his first and second Ministry (1937- 43). It was the first experience in coalition government during the British period. From this experience, the United Front in Pakistan was formed and it won the Provincial Assembly elections in 1954 and formed coalition (United Front) government. In the post-liberation period presence of political alliance was not visible among the political parties in Bangladesh.
After 1990 Bangladeshi political parties got involved in alliance politics. Since then those political parties who run the government were engaged in political alliance-building with other political parties. Political alliance is a continuous process in Bangladesh. In this process different political parties exchange their values with each other and small parties are getting opportunities to get share in government. As a result, political alliance plays a vital role for democratization in Bangladesh.
Political Alliance for Election:
An election alliance is an association of political parties or individuals that exists solely to stand in elections. While there are many political parties in Bangladesh, two dominant election alliances have emerged since the 1991 election, led by the Awami League (AL) and its arch-rival the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Political Alliance for Election in other Countries:
In Canada, for example, during the 1990s, the Progressive Conservative Party literally collapsed and by default the left of centre Liberal Party became excessively dominant in national politics. The competitive fix came from the formal merger of the Progressive Conservative Party and the ultra-right Reform Party. Capitalizing on voter disappointments with the Liberals, the newly formed Conservative Party came to power, and using their latest absolute majority, is pushing through policies that could reverse many progressive achievements of Canada. As such, talks are now back in political circles to unify the left-leaning parties.
In contrast, in countries like Italy, Israel and Greece, there are numerous political parties that routinely win some seats in the parliament, no single dominant party repeatedly wins an overwhelming number of seats, and as such post-election coalition governments are a norm rather than an exception. Coalition governments in Italy and Israel are often unstable though and results in pre-mature elections. While these democracies are fiercely competitive, the lack of assured continuity of a government and political gridlocks can be debilitating as has recently been observed in Greece.
OUTCOMES OF POLITICAL ALLIANCE FOR ELECTION
Political Alliances can have major implications for election outcomes. Under political alliance, effectively only one candidate is supported in a constituency by all the allied political parties. To the extent voter preference for a political party translates to votes in favor of its alliance, which minimizes splitting of the votes for the allied parties. This enhances the chances of winning a given constituency by an alliance candidate against the candidate of an opposing dominant political party or a competing political alliance. Thus, the system can make the electoral contests more competitive, make the parliament more robust, keep the governing party or relatively more accountable, and allow smaller parties to be represented in the parliament and in governance.
Importantly, however, the above political alliance benefits are expected in the presence of a single dominant political party or an alliance already in place. During the ninth parliamentary election in 2008, a total of 38 parties participated. However, there was one party that only had the organizational strength to nominate a candidate for a single parliamentary seat, and even then, that candidate only managed to secure 297 votes.
In the 2014 election, at least five out of the 12 participating parties received a combined total of fewer than 10,000 votes. Interestingly, in some instances, it was the smaller parties that benefitted. For instance, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Workers Party, and Bangladesh Tarikat Federation contested the election using the Awami League‘s “boat” symbol, but they only managed to secure 1.75 percent, 2.06 percent, and 0.3 percent of the votes, respectively. Despite these modest vote shares, the Awami League, as the alliance leader, accommodated their leaders in the cabinet, and some of them even became ministers. This outcome allowed these smaller parties to achieve positions of influence that they likely would not have attained had they contested independently.
To the extent voter preference for a political party translates to votes in favor of its alliance, which minimizes splitting of the votes for the allied parties
SUCCESSES OF 14-PARTY ALLIANCES
Awami League-led 14-party grand alliance formed the government after getting 263 seats out of 300 in the ninth general election held on December 29, 2008.
On the other hand, the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami-led four-party alliance got 32 seats in the 2008 election.
The 14-party alliance also formed a government having 153 seats out of 300 elected unopposed in the tenth parliamentary election held on January 5, 2014.
The then BNP-Jamaat four-party alliance boycotted the 10th parliamentary election as their demand of holding the election under a nonparty caretaker government was not met.
PRESENT SITUATION AL-LED 14-PARTY ALLIANCE
Members of the 14-party alliance want to start discussions on the poll-time government and distribution of seats right now. However, the Awami League, the leader of the alliance, has a different plan. The ruling party wants to fix these issues later, closer to the election. They want to involve the allies in programmes countering the activities of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). There is also talk among the allies as well as the Awami League that a vested quarter in the country and abroad is conspiring to prevent the upcoming national election. The leaders of the Awami League and the 14-party alliance say they will focus on foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Bangladesh and their stance against Jamaat and militancy in these programmes.
It will enable them to hold positions on the street countering BNP programmes and take preparation for the polls at the same time. According to the sources in Awami League, there is little scope to negotiate over seat distribution in the coalition. The ruling party left a few seats for some major parties of the alliance during the last three polls. These issues were settled bilaterally every time. This practice will be followed this time too. Besides, the ruling party is likely to take people from the allies in the poll-time government.
However, the Awami League decided on this based on the situation. There is no chance to discuss this issue, several leaders of Awami League said. Sources at the policymaking level of the party said there would be various sorts of polarisation ahead of the election. There is no chance to negotiate with the 14-party alliance without being clear about several issues, including the stance of the Jatiya Party (JaPa) and which religion-based parties are taking part in the polls. Besides, many from BNP could take part in the election as independent candidates if the party boycotts the election. Awami League also has to keep that in consideration.
ROLE PLAYED BY THE TWO MAJOR ALLIANCES
Currently, there are two notable alliances active in politics, the AL-led 14-party and grand alliance, and the BNP-led 20-party alliance. Additionally, prior to the 11th National Assembly election, the National Oikya Jot (National Unity Front) was formed under the leadership of Dr. Kamal Hossain, which included the BNP and like-minded political parties. However, despite its formation, this alliance did not have a significant impact on the election results. Following a resounding victory by the Awami League’s grand alliance with the Jatiya Party and left-wing political parties, the National Oikya Jot disbanded, and the BNP’s 20-party alliance collapsed.
WHY POLITICAL ALLIANCE APPEARS IN BANGLADESH
In 1991 and 1996, there was no lack of competition, and a single party (BNP, then AL) won governing majority in each case resulting in stable parliamentary governments. Thus, there is no inherent need for political alliances to make the elections competitive or to ensure stability in governance. On the other hand, smaller parties do not have much public support but they are able to influence the votes of the larger parties. The smaller parties have benefited the most from the political alliances. Their representation in the parliament and their say either in governance or in alliance positions on various issues have increased substantially. Though there are a significant number of smaller parties in both AL-led and BNP-led alliances, voters cannot choose anymore between the stand-alone views of AL or BNP, without yielding unintended support to either the extreme left or the extreme right.
Motivation for alliance
There are two main motivations behind the formation of alliances between major and minor political parties. Firstly, there is an ideological alliance, where parties with similar ideologies come together to present a united front and demonstrate support from diverse political groups in the country. Both of Bangladesh’s largest political parties seek to convey the message to voters that they have the backing of various political entities, hence forging alliances with like-minded groups. This enables them to establish a perception of widespread political support among citizens and foreign allies. However, alliances among major political parties are not solely based on ideological affiliations; they often form alliances with other parties for strategic reasons, such as the aim to secure more votes. Both the ruling and opposition parties, the AL and BNP, respectively, possess considerable support bases in Bangladesh.
Additionally, the Jatiya Party holds influence in multiple regions. Despite losing its registration with the Election Commission, the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami still retains some sympathizers in different parts of the country. Therefore, when their votes are combined with those of a major political party, it can significantly influence the outcome of an election. This is why larger political parties are eager to collaborate with smaller and medium-sized ones in the political landscape. On the flip side, certain political parties in the country lack significant popular support in terms of the number of votes and thus cannot directly secure representation in parliament.
These parties often participate in elections as part of alliances with major political parties, benefiting from the arrangement. If these parties were to contest elections independently, they would have no presence in Parliament. However, through electoral alliances, some of their leaders have not only served as members of parliament for extended periods but have also attained ministerial positions. However, since winning elections remains the top priority for every party, major parties have little choice but to make such strategic moves, despite the potential challenges they may face in maintaining their organizational cohesion.
FAILURE OF BNP-LED ALLIANCE
For a political party like the BNP, maintaining organizational strength over an extended period without being in power can be challenging. Consequently, their decision to boycott the polls and attempt to discredit the election and government has resulted in their own decline. In reality, the party has experienced significant disorganization during its 15 years in opposition, leading to disillusionment among its leaders and supporters. Consequently, the party’s call for a movement to overthrow the government in Bangladesh has failed to rally the support of party officials, activists, and the general population.
Additionally, the remarkable development achieved in the country over the past 15 years, largely credited to the presence of political parties like the AL in government, can be attributed to the visionary leadership of the honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the continuity of power. The AL has found it easier to win elections and handle opposition movements due to its alliances with like-minded political parties and supporters who uphold the spirit of the liberation war. Although the electoral impact of these political coalitions may be limited, they serve as a means to convey a positive message to both local and international stakeholders.
POLITICS OF ALLIANCE AND CHALLENGES OF PARTIES
Politics in Bangladesh has undergone various transformations and has now become largely confined to two major alliances: the Awami League (AL)-led 14-party alliance or Mohajote (which includes the Jatiyo Party), and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led 20-party alliance. The perception of these alliances varies among individuals based on their own political biases. Some consider the present and past actions of specific parties or leaders within the alliance, while others focus on their overall political nature.
These divisions revolve around factors such as support for or opposition to the liberation war, alignment with the spirit of the liberation war, secularism versus communalism, nationalism versus anti-nationalism, and more. In essence, the divisions can be seen as a clash between “Liberals” and “Conservatives,” based on the political character of supporters for each alliance. The AL-led alliance has emerged as a platform for “liberals,” while the BNP-led alliance has attracted “conservative” elements. The majority of the population in Bangladesh follows a moderate path in politics.
They practice their religious beliefs but are not driven by communalism; instead, they possess a liberal mentality. Both of the major parties with significant public support, namely the AL and BNP, fall within this moderate spectrum. Gradually, they have aligned themselves with left-wing (liberal) and right-wing (conservative) parties, respectively, for electoral purposes. This strategic association reflects the diverse political inclinations of their supporters. In Bangladesh, it is now evident that many smaller parties in both alliances are using the election symbol of the dominant alliance member for immediate survival, thereby sacrificing their own political distinctiveness.
This trend indicates that the country is moving toward a political structure with two major parties representing liberals and conservatives respectively. Presently, no political force is capable of toppling the AL’s position as the leader of the liberal camp. However, the BNP, which currently leads the conservatives, has faced significant challenges in recent years, resulting in weakened leadership and organizational structures. As a consequence, the politics of the conservative or right-wing alliance has become ineffective due to the absence of strong leadership.
Under the current circumstances, the political parties in Bangladesh may face the following challenges in the future:
The center-right Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has struggled to recover from its boycott of the 2014 election and the far-right Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI) lost its registration status due to the leadership’s involvement in war crimes during the 1971 liberation war
The failure to overcome these challenges could lead to risks. The ruling party may face defeat in elections, resulting in uncertainty and potential peril in the future. BNP may lose its leadership position within the conservative alliance, leading to disintegration and becoming a failing political force. JP may face political bankruptcy and potential dissolution. Other left and rightwing political parties may lose their individuality and face the threat of extinction. Presently, opposition parties in Bangladesh are facing significant challenges.
The center-right Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has struggled to recover from its boycott of the 2014 election, and its party chair, Begum Khaleda Zia, was imprisoned in 2018 on corruption charges. While Zia was granted bail with certain conditions through a government executive order in 2020 and the bail has been extended multiple times, BNP leadership continues to express concerns about repression.
The Jatiya Party (JP), another center-right party, has also faced difficulties in maintaining its role as the main opposition party, currently holding only 26 out of 350 parliamentary seats. The far-right Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (BJI) lost its registration status due to the leadership’s involvement in war crimes during the 1971 liberation war. Furthermore, the far-right party Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IAB) secured the third position in the 2018 parliamentary election but failed to secure a single seat in parliament. The absence of any electoral threat from right-leaning parties makes the current conservative shift in Bangladeshi politics puzzling, particularly considering the AL’s electoral and executive alliance with certain leftist parties.